The Substance of Things Heard

The Substance of Things Heard

Writings about Music

Paul Griffiths


University of Rochester Press



A choice selection of essays, reviews and interviews providing insights into musical performance, composition in the late 20th century and very early 21st, and the nature of opera.
Paul Griffiths offers his own personal selection of some of his most substantial and imaginative articles and concert reviews from over three decades of indefatigable concertgoing around the world. He reports on premieres and other important performances of works by such composers as Elliott Carter, Sofia Gubaidulina, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Steve Reich, as well as Harrison Birtwistle and other important British figures.
Griffiths vividly conveys the vision, aura, and idiosyncrasies of prominent pianists, singers, and conductors [such as Herbert von Karajan], and debates changing styles of performing Monteverdi and Purcell. A particular delight is his response to the world of opera, including Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande [six contrasting productions], Pavarotti and Domingo in Verdi at New York's Metropolitan Opera, Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron, and two wildly different Jonathan Miller versions of Mozart's Don Giovanni.
From the author's preface: "We cannot say what music is. Yet we are verbal creatures, and strive with words to cast a net around it, knowing most of this immaterial stuff will evade capture. The stories that follow cover a wide range of events over a period of great change. Yet the net's aim was always the same, to catch the substance of things heard.
"Criticism has to work largely by analogy and metaphor. This is no limitation. It is largely through such verbal ties that music is linked to other sorts of experience, not least the natural world and the orchestra of our feelings."

Paul Griffiths's reviews and articles have appeared extensively in both Britain [Times, Financial Times, Times Literary Supplement] and the United States [New Yorker, New York Times]. He has written numerous books on Bartók, Cage, Messiaen, Boulez, Maxwell Davies, twentieth-century music, opera, and the string quartet, and is the author of the recent Penguin Companion to Classical Music. He is also author of The Sea on Fire: Jean Barraqué.

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September 2005
395 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580462068
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
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Table of Contents

A Debut
Paths to Montsalvat
Da lontano
A Handful of Pianists
Around New York
Being in Assisi
The Composer's Voice
Mozart 1991
A Decade of Don Giovannis
Operatic Passions
At the Movies
Schoenberg on the Stage
Five British Composers
Mapping Mtsensk
Behind the Rusting Curtain
Verdi at the Met
A Quintet of Singers
How It Was, Maybe
Tracks in Allemonde
A Departure


This brilliant collection brings home how an astute human observer can preserve aspects of a performance that even the best recording cannot. . . . Offers meaty, flavorful chapters on Berio, Carter, Gubaidulina, Tippett, Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise, . . . [plus] reviews of performances mostly of older music, all equally revelatory examples of the taste of the times. . . . Meticulously produced and well worth its price twice over." BERKSHIRE REVIEW FOR THE ARTS [Michael Miller]

Griffiths writes more eloquently and with greater insight than any of his peers. . . Illuminating, translucent, sagacious, [The Substance of Things Heard] is a fine anthology, and an indispensable addition to the library of any serious classical music lover. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

An informed and passionate involvement with new music, an imaginative and civilised turn of the phrase, and the readiness to warmly appreciate. --Alfred Brendel, pianist and author of Alfred Brendel on Music: Collected Essays (Chicago Review Press)

Music criticism in the English language has been fortunate in attracting distinguished writers, such as George Bernard Shaw and Ezra Pound. Nowadays, Paul Griffiths comes closest to filling this ecological niche. Future musicologists will have to take Griffiths's responses into account in mapping the relation between music and culture in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. --Daniel Albright [Harvard University], author of Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts (University of Chicago Press)

A fascinating read. --Ian Bostridge, operatic tenor and recitalist

No critic gives so interesting, complete, judicious and readable an account of the world of music as Paul Griffiths. --Charles Rosen, pianist and author of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas [Yale], The Romantic Generation [Harvard], and Piano Notes: The World of the Pianist [Free Press].

There is no mistaking the penetration and eloquence of Griffiths's own singular voice. . . on every page of this distinguished work. MUSICAL TIMES [Arnold Whittall]

A superb, highly recommended anthology. THE BOOK DEPOSITORY [Mark Thwaite]

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